The Times’ Food section has relied on various recipe testers over the years. Without much fanfare, these men and women have spent hundreds of hours preparing dishes that, combined, could probably feed several armies.
Yet it’s the quality of their work that we remember, rather than the quantity. Through numerous tests and retests, they’ve made certain that each recipe’s fine points could be achieved by the home cook.
Take A.L. Wyman, who regularly tested Times recipes in his Glendale “laboratory kitchen” in the early 1920s. He had trained as a chef and master baker in Europe, Egypt and Asia. And he developed an interest in California’s fruit associations, writing recipes for them that incorporated peaches, figs, raisins, walnuts, oranges and other local produce.
Mostly, Wyman enjoyed cooking as it applied to the family and the home. His “Practical Recipes” column, which was published in The Times each Saturday, provided clear, concise directions for everything from avocado cocktails to banana cream pies.
In 1923, The Times sponsored a recipe contest, with first, second and third prizes awarded for the best appetizer, soup, seafood, meat, vegetable, salad, dessert and “Spanish” (Mexican) recipes. Wyman tested more than 7,000 entries (and we assume had a hand in the judging) before compiling the winners and losers into what became the “Los Angeles Times Prize Cook Book.”
The 340-page volume followed four earlier Times cookbooks that showcased readers’ recipes. This one, though, was marketed as a “real ‘prize’ to housekeepers” and a “delight to Eastern families who receive it as a gift from California friends.”
The dessert category (no surprise) received the most entries--long-held family secrets for sponge cakes, tortes, puddings and pies. First prize went to Kate M. Brill of Los Angeles for her Coconut Layer Cake. It beat a strawberry pie, a date souffle and a caramel custard, among others. Why? Perhaps because it is superb--in looks and taste. The coconut gives it texture, the custard filling gives it a sweet, gooey flavor.